Boonton schools look to aid students’ mental health

By Anthony Lusardi, contributing writer of The Citizen:

BOONTON – Improving mental health of students in the grades K-12 district is the goal of a new initiative known as “THRIVE.”

When the Board of Education met on Nov.5, two of the school district’s mental health professionals, Melissa Bialick and Robin Schwalb, spoke of the volunteer initiative.

THRIVE is a committee dedicated to helping Boonton students strive to improve mental health, increase self-esteem and teach resiliency.

“This initiative was created by Robin and I because as mental health professionals we recognized that these issues, depression, anxiety, suicide, harassment intimidation and bullying, behavioral disorders, and others, significantly impact our student body, thus impacting our staff and community,” said Bialick.

“We wanted a space and a committee to serve as a preventative method for managing these issues.”

The goals of THRIVE include educating and spreading awareness of mental health issues to the school community, assessing and identifying the needs of the school district community in regards to mental health, helping to increase the resiliency and coping skills of the student body, increasing a positive climate throughout the district and spreading awareness of the proper safety procedures and protocols to follow in relation to situations that depend heavily on mental health issues.

THRIVE was first implemented during the 2017-2018 school year. Since then, the committee has held quarterly meetings with all mental-health and wellness stakeholders and has conducted a needs assessment at the district level.

They have also provided school staff with multiple professional development sessions and activities in topics related to mental health, adopted and incorporated a new curriculum for health classes to educate students on sensitive topics, created an online forum, which can be found on the Boonton schools’ website, and educated the board on the committee’s plans for the coming school year.

“The THRIVE committee is made up of staff only at this point,” said Schwalb.

“I will be starting a student advisory group very soon to make sure our students have a voice in the direction of THRIVE’s future activities. The students will be applying and will be selected by me,” she said.

“I hope to have them participate in part of our future meetings. This school year, we plan to increase our student education on mental health and coping skills,” she added.

“We are training all the district staff in regards to the newly published guidelines on transgender students and having an outside expert on gender non-conforming students. We are also starting work on a Mental Health Resource Fair in April of 2019.”

Schwalb has been a social worker on the Boonton High School’s Child Study Team for the past 16 years. She also provides counseling, crisis intervention and consultation to school staff and parents on all aspects of child/adolescent mental health. Furthermore, she is a co-adviser for Club Alliance, the high school’s LGBTQ club.

Bialick has been a psychologist at Boonton High School for the last three years. She is also the advisor of the high school’s Key Club, an after-school club open to all students that are interested in service leadership. Furthermore, she is a Gateway Mentor for Boonton’s Gateway Academy, a gifted and talented program.